Meet SIA SMW Wheels

The Baltic Times - - FRONT PAGE - Li­nas Jegele­vi­cius

Latvia may seem the least likely home for a man­u­fac­turer of high­tech cut­ting edge aerospace and au­to­mo­tive ma­te­ri­als, but SMW En­gi­neer­ing’s re­cent spinoff, SIA SMW Wheels just de­nies that, em­ploy­ing the Lat­vian cap­i­tal’s met­al­lur­gi­cal po­ten­tial. The Baltic Times spoke to Mark Lis­nan­sky, the CEO of SIA SMW Wheels.

What was the start?

Dur­ing the past 15 years, SMW En­gi­neer­ing be­came an in­ter­na­tional com­pany, ex­port­ing over 90 per cent of its pro­duc­tion to Italy, Ger­many, UK, and the US. But it con­tin­ued to be per­ceived as a Rus­sian com­pany, which some­times was a hin­drance in start­ing new cus­tomer re­la­tion­ships – due to some level of ap­pre­hen­sion that work­ing with a purely Rus­sian com­pany rep­re­sents chal­lenges, po­lit­i­cal risks and such. Italy is where most of our clients are lo­cated. But, Latvia was a nat­u­ral choice for its prox­im­ity to Rus­sia, and for the avail­abil­ity of an ed­u­cated la­bor force, as well as a re­duced lan­guage bar­rier (most Lat­vian pro­fes­sion­als speak Rus­sian or English). It is also my birth­place, and Riga is my beloved city. I feel very com­fort­able here, and am gen­er­ally quite sat­is­fied with the qual­ity of life here.

SMW En­gi­neer­ing opened a reg­is­tered branch of­fice in 2015, and in 2016 we ac­quired an ex­ist­ing com­pany, and re­named it SIA SMW Wheels. We al­ready have sev­eral joint projects with the Univer­sity of Latvia In­sti­tute of Physics, and are plan­ning to start pro­duc­tion of mag­ne­sium wire for ad­di­tive man­u­fac­tur­ing, as well as pur­su­ing CNC ma­chin­ing and an­odiz­ing/paint­ing of the light­est forged wheels.

Is Latvia able to pro­vide the work­force you need? Do you out­source some of the ser­vices?

It is quite un­for­tu­nate that so many pro­fes­sion­als have left – hav­ing found jobs in the UK, Ger­many, and else­where. I hope some of them will re­turn to their birth­place, a coun­try which is very ap­peal­ing, and has many won­der­ful el­e­ments. We do feel the short­age of qual­i­fied en­gi­neers and met­al­lur­gists to some de­gree; but there is suf­fi­cient lo­cal tal­ent avail­able here to im­ple­ment our plans, and the level of ed­u­ca­tion is sat­is­fac­tory. Young peo­ple can be trained. In many cases, when grad­u­ates have spent sev­eral semesters at prom­i­nent uni­ver­si­ties in Western Europe, they pos­sess ad­di­tional cre­den­tials when they re­turn to Latvia. We do out­source some projects to the In­sti­tute of Physics, and are quite pleased thus far with the lev­els of com­pe­tence there.

It is cer­tainly worth not­ing the very high com­pe­tence level of the MHD Re­search Cen­tre, which is part of the LU In­sti­tute of Physics. They do pos­sess sta­teof-the-art tech­nolo­gies re­lated to elec­tro­mag­netic field tech­nolo­gies and con­tinue to con­duct im­por­tant re­search. We may form a joint ven­ture in the fu­ture.

What global aerial and ground trans­porta­tion lead­ers do you work with?

Among in­dus­try lead­ers, we have longterm mu­tu­ally-ben­e­fi­cial work­ing re­la­tion­ships or joint R&D projects with Brembo, Air­bus, Thales-ale­nia, OZ, and BBS. And we are in ne­go­ti­a­tions with sev­eral other large cor­po­ra­tions we’d like to col­lab­o­rate with.

What other tech­nolo­gies are you work­ing on? Is their ap­pli­ca­bil­ity a mat­ter of weeks, months or years?

Laser-cladding mag­ne­sium struc­tures from a wire is quite unique, as there are only a small num­ber of uni­ver­si­ties in the world work­ing on it. We are also plan­ning to set up pro­duc­tion ca­pa­bil­ity for fabri­cat­ing large struc­tures through an ad­di­tive man­u­fac­tur­ing process – which is a unique tech­nol­ogy for now. We are also de­vel­op­ing spe­cial ma­te­ri­als for space ap­pli­ca­tions – to shield space­ships from dust/ de­bris, and an­other ver­sion to shield cos­mo­nauts from the elec­tro­mag­netic field. All th­ese de­vel­op­ments won’t be com­mer­cial­ized un­til 2018. The tech­nolo­gies we’re com­mer­cial­iz­ing now are: forg­ing large mag­ne­sium parts (up to 3 me­ters in size), which is unique, as there are only a few com­pa­nies in the world able to do it; and a sur­face treat­ment process for mag­ne­sium parts (such as wheels), which en­ables us to of­fer a 10 year war­ranty.

Can you speak a lit­tle about your striv­ing for sus­tain­able and eco-friendly man­u­fac­tur­ing and con­tri­bu­tion to the en­vi­ron­ment?

We are al­ways very mind­ful of at­tain­ing a net-pos­i­tive eco­log­i­cal ef­fect – thus pre­serv­ing and im­prov­ing the en­vi­ron­ment through our op­er­a­tional ac­tiv­i­ties. SMW spe­cial­izes in mak­ing things lighter – to at­tain sig­nif­i­cant weight re­duc­tion of the parts/com­po­nents we man­u­fac­ture. That, by def­i­ni­tion, is green and friendly. Mag­ne­sium is the light­est struc­tural metal on this planet (as lithium and beryl­lium are pro­hib­i­tively ex­pen­sive and dif­fi­cult to han­dle), and we are in­deed the cham­pi­ons in wrought mag­ne­sium fabri­ca­tions.

Is there any­thing else worth men­tion­ing?

We would like to see the Baltic coun­tries keep and ben­e­fit from its most in­tel­li­gent sons and daugh­ters – rather than los­ing them to Western Euro­pean em­ploy­ers. The cur­rent out­flow of hu­man cap­i­tal is a ma­jor prob­lem, and var­i­ous ad­di­tional mea­sures need to be in­sti­tuted by the gov­ern­ment to re­verse this very re­gret­ful trend. We have some rec­om­men­da­tions for leg­is­la­tors. The pre­vail­ing de­mo­graphic phe­nom­e­non is not en­cour­ag­ing, and we feel the gov­ern­ment is too pas­sive about it. At the very min­i­mum, young moth­ers should re­ceive mean­ing­ful fi­nan­cial aid/stim­u­lus when hav­ing more than one child, and var­i­ous other sup­port.

De­vel­op­ment of Su­per­bus pro­to­type (Nether­lands, 2013)

Mark Lis­nan­sky is the CEO of SIA SMW Wheels.

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